The "Experiment In Modern Music" concert was organized by Paul Whiteman, the popular leader of the Palais Royal Orchestra. "The audience packed a house that could have been sold out at twice the size," wrote The New York Times music critic.
The aim of the concert was to show that jazz deserved to be seen as a serious, sophisticated art form. After hearing 24 new pieces, the audience became restless, and then, Gershwin, a composer of Broadway songs, sat down at the piano.
Gershwin always wanted to transcend popular music, but the piece he used to do so was put together very quickly. He had not even committed to writing anything five weeks before the concert.
A newspaper reported he was "at work on a jazz concerto," so he wrote “Rhapsody In Blue” for solo piano and jazz band, combining elements of classical music with jazz effects, as well as he could, leaving his piano part to be improvised during the concert.
"It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet," wrote The Times critic. "It has subsidiary phrases, logically growing out of it, often metamorphosed by devices of rhythm and instrumentation.
"This is no mere dance tune set for piano and other instruments. This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk."
Two audio recordings still exist of Gershwin performing an abridged version with Whiteman's orchestra: an acoustic recording made on June 10, 1924, and an electrical one made on April 21, 1927.
Fifty years later, interest in the original arrangement revived. Reconstructions were recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Columbia Jazz Band in 1976, and by Maurice Peress with Ivan Davis on piano as part of a 60th anniversary celebration of the original concert.
"Rhapsody in Blue" established Gershwin's reputation as a serious composer and became one of the most significant American musical compositions of the 20th century, opening the way for a new generation of serious composers to draw on jazz elements in their own works